GUATEMALA CITY (AP) -- A group of retired soldiers and their relatives launched a campaign Monday to deny that a genocide was carried out in Guatemala and to demand a fair trial for former dictator Jose Efrain Rios Montt.
About 24 people began collecting 5,000 signatures in support of their campaign outside the Supreme Court’s building in Guatemala City, where Rios Montt is being tried on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.
The protesters held signs that read "There was no genocide here" and "Respect to military dignity and historic truth" as speakers blasted Guatemala’s national anthem and military marches.
Retired army Gen. Victor Argueta, president of an association of war veterans, said the group plans to collect signatures throughout the country and turn them in to the Supreme Court.
"We want a fair trial according to the law and to prove there was no genocide here," said Argueta, who was the head of Rios Montt’s presidential guard.
He said the group plans to ask military officers and army specialists who were active during Guatemala’s civil war to sign the petition.
Rios Montt, 86, ruled Guatemala in 1982-83 after a military coup. He is accused in 1,771 deaths, 1,400 human rights violations and the displacement of 29,000 indigenous Guatemalans.
During the 1960-96 civil war more than 200,000 people, mostly Mayan Indians, were killed or went missing and entire villages were exterminated, according to the United Nations.